November 21st, 2008

THE SIGNAL (2008) *** ½

A mysterious television signal turns everybody into stark raving lunatics bent on murdering random people.  In the midst of all this, there is a love triangle between Maya (Anessa Ramsey), her lover Ben (Justin Welborn), and her estranged husband Lewis (A.J. Benton).  Lewis becomes especially bat shit insane and he’ll do anything to get his cheating wife back.  In the meantime, Ben does whatever it takes to find Maya so they can spend the rest of their (hopefully sane) lives together.


The Signal takes a pretty much straightforward story and tells it in an intriguing way, thereby making the material seem fresher than it should.  The plot borrows heavily from George Romero’s The Crazies, Stephen King’s Cell and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (except these crazy people kill each other, not themselves) but the narrative is reminiscent of Pulp Fiction.  The flick is broken down into three stories (called “Transmissions”) and each non-linear vignette is linked by recurring characters appearing and reappearing in overlapping timelines. 


The middle segment is the best as it deftly combines a wicked sense of humor with some very imaginative gore.  (I particularly liked the air pump to the jugular bit.)  The opening segment is by far the darkest, but it does an excellent job at setting up the crumbling world in which the characters inhabit.  The final transmission is a good blend of the previous two stories (the talking head gag is a hoot) although it really goes on a bit longer than it really needed to.


Despite a few nitpicks I had here and there (like people’s high tolerance of Lewis’ highly erratic behavior); The Signal nevertheless delivers the goods.  The gore is excellent and I guarantee you’ll have at least one giant laugh during the second transmission.  Hopefully we’ll see a couple more transmissions from directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry in the next couple of years.

THE COSMIC MAN (1959) **

John Carradine is The Cosmic Man, a shadowy looking alien who comes to Earth in a spaceship shaped like a giant ping pong ball.  Almost immediately, the army wants to turn his technology into some kind of weapon.  The peace-minded scientists, who learned their lesson from the A-Bomb, have other ideas and think that we all could LEARN from the alien being.  Carradine takes human form and tries to help mankind but of course, is misunderstood and killed by the stupid humans.


Often dismissed as a poor man’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Cosmic Man isn’t all that bad and is made watchable by a good performance by Carradine.  The biggest problem is that The Cosmic Man takes forever to show his face as the first part of the movie is endlessly padded with scenes of square jawed 50’s military types wanting to exploit the alien ship for their own purposes while the straight-laced scientists ponder the giant ping pong ball’s existence.  


The special effects for the Cosmic Man himself are pretty cool.  Sure he’s just filmed in negative, but even though the effect is economical, it still works rather well.  Unfortunately, the maudlin subplot involving the single mother with her crippled kid is bound to get on your damn nerves.  The syrupy finale where the little handicapped tyke walks for the first time (courtesy of The Cosmic Man) will be enough to put you into a diabetic coma.